By Madison Aysha Dante



He agrees to go up those stairs with Steve even though he had this nagging pit pooling with dread inside of his stomach that was telling him not to.  He climbs up the stairs slowly with the bile and nauseous choking up his throat as a warning he was ignoring as his steps are struggled.  The carpet on the floor isn’t the same dingy shade of orange as it was when he was growing up.  No, the rugs are red…blood red and with each step he takes, his feet sinks deeper than it’s suppose to into the carpeted jungle.  Each step was another inch deeper and by the time he made it up the stairs, the carpet fibers were scrapping against his ankles as if they had tiny blades that were digging into his flesh.  Michael was scared because the fibers looked like blood surrounding his feet, but when he tried to ask Steve for help, no sounds came out.   He couldn’t talk.  He tried screaming and yelling, but still nothing….no words.  Steve was ahead of him by a few feet and he looked down at Steve’s feet and saw that everything was normal.  The carpet was flat underneath him and his steps were normal and paced whereas Michael’s were struggled and unbalanced as he tried to wade through the now knee length carpet.  He tried to cry out again for help, but still, no sounds could be heard.   It was as if he was deaf, but he could hear Steve’s husky breathing in front of him.   He wanted to stop walking and turn around to run back down the stairs, but when he looked, the stairs were covered with the blood red fibers that stood taller than he was and threatening as they swayed to unknown beats and looked as if they were breathing.  



Somehow he’s in Steve’s room now with his legs bleeding and no shoes on.  Small cuts above his knee on his thigh run blood down to his ankle and he can feel the warmth of his blood starting to dry in-between his toes.  He knows something is wrong and this time when he screams for help Steve smiles and walks over to the bed where Michael is sitting and runs his hand through Michael’s hair.  He starts telling him that it’s time for them to play a game, but Michael doesn’t want to and when he tells Steve this, Steve gets mad and tells him that if he doesn’t play, he’s gonna tell Nana that he didn’t wear his coat when he went outside earlier that day.  Michael doesn’t want his grandma to be angry with him and he doesn’t want the spanking he knows she’ll give him, so he knows that he has no other choice, but to play the game.   He was seven and sadly Michael didn‘t know any better.  Steve asks him to get undressed and Michael tells him no.   He knows that his mother said that only she, his daddy, Nana or Grampa are allowed to see him without any clothes on, but Steve started to get mad and yell when Michael kept saying that he wouldn’t take his clothes off.  Michael still refuses and in his dream Steve gets up off the bed and locks the door just like it happened in real life.  He walks over to the snake cage and takes out his colorless Python and squeezes its body until it hisses and its long non-venomous fangs are exposed.  Michael is afraid of snakes and he tries to run away, but there is nowhere to go.  Steve walks over to him and says that he’s gonna throw the snake around his neck if he doesn’t take his shirt off.  Michael starts to cry and promises he’ll do it if Steve puts the snake back in the cage, but Steve says that he’ll only do that if Michael takes his pants off too.  Cobalt blue eyes shining with tear drops stare up at Steve with pure fear and uncertainty for a moment in that way that only a scared child can do.   With most people the site would have broke their heart, but with Steve’s sick polluted mind it only excited him.   It takes Steve making the snake hiss out again for Michael to take his pants off and that was only the beginning of the longest six years of his life….



He woke up drenched in the smell of his own salty sweat.  He breathed in deeply and knew he had that dream again. The one where he’s seven and Cousin Steve is asking him to come and help him move furniture in his bedroom.   Michael always dreams about that day, well more like he has nightmares about it.   He can remember everything about that first time. Even as he tries not to.  The smells sometimes are what haunt him the worse.  It plagues him at the most random of times.  He could be in the middle of a simple conversation when out of nowhere the scent of dirty sweat and mouse droppings would hit him and he’s instantly reminded of the six years of hell he went through.  The dream is always the same as it never changes and sometimes Michael thinks the pain of remembering is worse than the pain of actually experiencing it.


He could feel Susanna’s body laying a few feet from him.  The bed didn’t feel cold, but that’s only because the heats on high.  He could hear pots being dropped downstairs and he knew it was probably just Charlie trying to make a three a.m. snack.  He closed his eyes and tried to fall back asleep, but really there was no point in trying.  On nights like these where he had the dream, closing his eyes were like tempting fate.  He knew Steve’s face would be there in his mind waiting to re-surface and he couldn‘t make it go away.  He wanted to cut himself because that always made him feel better on nights like these.  He glanced over at Susanna and saw her body breathing in and out from underneath the thick white blanket and he knew that she was pretty much going to be gone with sleep for the rest of the night.  He could smell the beer off of her breath with each snore and he knew it was his fault that she’d been drinking alone that night.  He was suppose to take her out, but got side tracked skating with Charlie and she was pissed.  She was trying to save what little relationship, if any, that they had left and he had only let her down again….like always. He was always letting everyone down.  He was never on time for important things, always slipping up and telling secrets that he found funny only to end up pissing off the friend whom the secret belonged to.  He never meant any harm, it was just for the humor of things, but it always seemed like he was saying or doing something wrong that hurt the people he cared about.  



Michael sighed restlessly to himself and tried to quietly reach inside of his drawer in search of the little box he kept his blades in.  He tried to be quiet, but as the seconds ticked and passed to minutes, he grew more anxious.  He couldn’t find his box.  He clicked on the lamp on the night stand and waited a few seconds to see if Susanna would stir before he got off the bed and began to dig through the drawers roughly in a state of momentary panic.  His feet were cold and goose bumps lay prickled over his bare chest and he thought that he should start listening to Susanna when she said that he should sleep in more than just his snoopy the dog boxer shorts.  He reached inside deeper as the pressure in his chest thickened with not being able to find his box.  He calmed himself and tried to quietly take the drawer out of its place, but he wasn’t quiet enough and Susanna started to wake up.



“Michael? What the hell are you doing?”  She asked in her not quite so drunk, but very obviously sleep deprived voice as she turned over on her side to face him.  Her hands immediately went to cover her eyes from the low glare of the lamp.



“Uh…nothing.  Go back to sleep.”  Michael mumbled nervously as he attempted to shove the drawer back in its slot.  Susanna looked at him like he was crazy, but turned back on her side and closed her eyes without another word.   Michael couldn’t help feeling like he had just dodged a bullet and thought that it was only a matter of time before she left him because she didn’t even care to argue with him anymore.  He glanced at Susanna before retreating out of the bedroom.   As he walked to cold and dark hallway the noise in the kitchen grew louder and louder and he could hear the faint sound of laughter.  Curious, he stuck his head into the kitchen only to see Charlie and Tommy in the middle of a conversation as light gray smoke started to surround Tommy.  What Michael didn’t like seeing was the way Charlie was perched on his stool staring up at Tommy who was too busy trying fan down the smoke rising from the pot to notice.  It was the way he was looking at Tommy that made Michael feel anxious.  It was that same way that Charlie always looked at Tommy.  Like a mixture of amusement and adoration with just a smidge of love thrown in.  Michael decided not to think about just what kind of love that Charlie was feeling because really, Michael was too exhausted to try and analyze the situation at the moment.



“Oh God Tommy!  How the fuck do you burn Top Roman Noodles!?”  Charlie laughed as Tommy grabbed the pot with an oven mitt and threw it in the sink.  Michael could see the distressed smile on Tommy’s face and that made him smile because Tommy always looked a little more adorable when he was trying to hide the fact that he was panicking..


“What are you two dip shits still doing up? Wait! Tommy, why are you still here?”  Michael asked as he walked over to the refrigerator and took out a bottle of water.  He didn’t have an appetite.  Tommy looked at him with concern in his eyes, but said nothing.



“Hanging with dip-shit over there.  I’m putting on a new pot, you want some?”  Tommy asked him and Michael rolled his eyes.



“No.  I’m not hungry.”  Michael replied.




“You’re never hungry because you never eat!”  Charlie stated and Michael rolled his eyes again because he hated when his friends would get on him for his lack of eating.  They made it seem like he was bulimic or anorexic, which he wasn’t.  True, he had a fear of gaining weight and he didn’t like to eat too much food because of that, but he didn’t have an eating disorder.  In fact, he would even let himself have a few snacks here and there, he would just skateboard right after for exercise.



“Shut up Charlie!”  Michael deadpanned and he listened.  Michael knew that Charlie had this irrational fear of Michael kicking him out so sometimes he would be extra cautious with the way he acted around Michael.  He would always listen to him or clean up when it wasn’t necessary because in his eyes, Michael was doing this huge thing for him by letting him live with him for free when really Michael just loved the extra company.  Besides, he knew that Charlie didn’t have any other options of places to go.  When he was using drugs he had pushed away most of his family and all of his other friends, so really,  Michael, Tommy, Kyle and Darnel were all the he had left.  Michael liked having his friends near him because that meant that he didn’t have to be alone.  It just sucked a little that his main crew, Darnel, Kyle decided to get their own apartments and since Tommy was a D.J. for his college‘s radio station, he lived on campus. 



“….So Tommy, tell Michael what happened to you and Kyle this morning.”  Charlie said and he and Tommy started to laugh.  Michael just stood there with the bottle of water resting in his hand as he took the stool nearest the exit and closest to Tommy who had his back turned to them opening up a new bag of noodles.


“Kyle calls me this morning and he’s all like ‘Tommy, I need you to take me to the dentist because they gotta give me laughing gas and I’m not allowed to drive for six hours -.”  Tommy started to say, but was cut off mid-sentence.



“Six hours!  Haahaha!” Charlie cut in and Tommy turned around to face him with a look of mock hatred that they both understood was all just for play.  Tommy would pretend to easily  be annoyed by Charlie when really he loved him just like he loved everyone else because Charlie, even through his drug addiction days, had always been a part of the crew just as long as mostly everyone else had.  Charlie was from Connecticut and he had met Michael skating when he was twelve and Charlie was eleven.  They immediately had this connection and on many summer days Charlie would come over to New Jersey to hang with Michael and all of his friends.  Charlie and Tommy were closer in age and when he met Tommy, it was like they had this instant connection.    It was that first summer when Tommy met Charlie that Michael got jealous.


Charlie was staying at his house, but for some reason he started trying to hang out with Tommy without including him.  Charlie would leave out of the house early and go to Tommy’s job without telling Michael or Dennis and would focus all of his attention on Tommy when there could have been eight other guys around that they were all hanging out with.   Tommy was Dennis’s friend first and when Dennis and Tommy would do things without inviting Michael, he didn’t mind that too much because Dennis was his brother……but Charlie wasn’t.  The first two weeks that Charlie was staying in West Chester, Michael wished he would just go back home to Maryland because he didn’t like feeling left out.   He was too young to actually realize that he wasn’t just feeling like he was not being included, but he was feeling like he was losing his best friend.  It wasn’t until nine years later that Michael realized that he was in love with Tommy and even now four years after that, no one knew that fact.  Tommy must have started to pick up on how left out Michael might have been feeling because one day out of the blue, he started being a little colder to Charlie.  He wasn’t mean, just a little rude and condescending, but that was only when Michael was around.  Charlie didn’t seemed fazed by Tommy’s sudden “coldness” to him because he would play along and treat him the same way or laugh off something rude Tommy may have said to him.  Michael didn‘t understand what happened, but by the end of those two weeks he would laugh every time Tommy would call Charlie an asshole and roll his eyes at him.


“Damn, can I finish? So, anyway, Kyle’s all like  ‘Yeah man, that sucks because I was suppose to take this sweet ass girl out for lunch today-”  Tommy started again, but was cut off once again.


“Wait!  Kyle’s got a girlfriend?”  Michael asked.  He could feel a rush of anticipation filling up his chest with hoping that Kyle in fact was seeing someone- a girl, meaning that Michael had been wrong all along about Tommy and Kyle being together.



“Yeah, just some girl he‘s trying to pretend he doesn‘t like, but he never shuts the hell up about her….….”  Tommy continued talking, but Michael was off inside of his head.   He was consumed with a plethora of emotions.  Kyle was seeing someone….a girl and Tommy wasn’t a girl.  Tommy and Kyle….Kyle and Tommy…..nothing was going on?  Nothing was going on…..Michael didn’t know which emotion was stronger, his relief, his embarrassment or his joy.


“… Kyle’s all like 'Ew man, get that out of my mouth!” Hahhahahaha!' "  Tommy and Charlie’s loud laughter broke Michael out of his thoughts and he looked at the two laughing figures in front of him.  He found the corners of his lips cracking into a smile of his own and before he knew it, he was laughing too.  He didn’t even hear the story, but the lack of pressure that he was feeling inside of his chest was freeing….it was freeing and he let himself enjoy it.


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